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Tremor

Definition

A tremor is a type of shaking movement. A tremor is most often noticed in your hands and arms. It may affect any body part, including your head or vocal cords.

Alternative Names

Tremor - hand; Hand tremor; Tremor - arms; Kinetic tremor; Intention tremor; Postural tremor

Considerations

Tremors can happen at any age. They are more common in older people. Everyone has some tremor when they move their hands. Stress, fatigue, anger, fear, caffeine, and smoking may make this type of tremor worse.

A tremor that does not go away over time may be a sign of a medical problem and should be checked by your health care provider.

Essential tremor is the most common tremor. The shaking most often involves small, rapid movements. It usually occurs when you are trying to do something, such as reaching for an object or writing. This type of tremor may also run in families.

Causes

Tremor may be caused by:

Home Care

For tremors caused by stress, try ways to relax, such as meditation or breathing exercises. For tremors of any cause, avoid caffeine and get enough sleep.

For tremors caused by a medicine, talk to your doctor about stopping the drug, reducing the dosage, or switching to another medicine. Do not change or stop medications on your own.

For tremors caused by alcohol use, seek treatment to help you stop drinking alcohol.

Severe tremors may make it hard to do daily activities. You may need help with these activities.

Devices that may help include:

  • Buying clothes with Velcro fasteners or using button hooks
  • Cooking or eating with utensils that have a larger handle
  • Using a sippy cup to drink
  • Wearing slip-on shoes and using shoehorns

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if your tremor:

  • Is worse at rest and gets better with movement such as when you reach for something
  • Is prolonged, severe, or interferes with your life
  • Occurs with other symptoms, such as headache, weakness, abnormal tongue movements, muscle tightening, or other movements that you cannot control

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, including a detailed brain and nervous system (neurologic) examination. You may be asked questions to help your doctor find the cause of your tremors:

The following tests may be ordered:

Once a cause of the tremor has been determined, treatment will be prescribed.

You may not need treatment unless the tremor interferes with your daily activities or causes embarrassment.

Treatment depends on the cause. Tremor caused by a medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism, will likely get better when the condition is treated.

If the tremor is caused by a certain medicine, stopping the drug will usually help it go away. Never stop taking any medicine without first talking to your doctor.

You may be prescribed medicines to help relieve symptoms. How well medicines work depends on your overall health and the cause of the tremor.

References

Deuschl G. New hope for severe essential tremor? Lancet Neurol. 2013:12:420-422.

Jankovic J. Movement disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 71.

Lang AE. Other movement disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 417.


Review Date: 5/20/2014
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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